The Deep Route Fantasy Notebook features recaps and thoughts about the recent action in the NFL and its implications in fantasy football along with weekly awards, draft spotlights and other random tidbits. Unless stated otherwise, all stats are accumulated using Pro Football Reference, ESPN or 4for4.com.
THINGS I KNOW
I know Carson Wentz looks fantastic. I have voiced my concerns about Wentz, said he would not be the best quarterback in his class and questioned his fantasy relevance. However, Monday night’s incredible performance just solidified Wentz as the leading MVP candidate. Alex Smith, who many viewed as an early candidate, has slowed in recent weeks while Wentz has only heated up. Four touchdowns and a 68 percent completion rating should not be the game numbers of a second-year quarterback.
Out of curiosity, I went back to my scouting days and checked my notes on Wentz. My final verdict on him read, “Could be very good, but needs time to adapt. Will need good coaching and supporting cast. Tools are there but still ‘raw’. Star or dud.” Wentz certainly has had adequate coaching and skill players to help him progress, but what he hasn’t had is much time. Clearly Wentz didn’t need it as he is already a prime MVP candidate with the best touchdown-interception ratio in the league. If Wentz continues to play like this, the expectations for his promising career will soar much higher than just one MVP award.
I know Chuck Pagano will not be the Colts’ head coach next year. Frankly, Colts players probably know it, too, after that horrendous shutout by the Jaguars. Could it be any more obvious that the players want Pagano gone? Obviously that is pure speculation, but if the Colts continue their present level of play, Pagano is a near-lock to get canned. Keep in mind, new general manager Chris Ballard has no ties to Pagano, despite Ballard publicly affirming his commitment to the coach before the season.
Regardless, Indianapolis is in need of a complete overhaul. Ballard made some solid moves during his first offseason with the Colts, and the next positive move he can make is to fire Pagano. The best thing for everyone involved is to start with a clean slate. Even if Pagano has lost his head coaching magic, he should be in high demand as a top defensive coordinator.
I know Chiefs–Raiders is a game of the year candidate. What. A. Game. It was so thrilling, so intense, that there had to be four final plays. Albeit, penalties played a huge part in nearly every defining moment, but everything else about this game was perfect for football fans (unless you were rooting against the Raiders). It featured big plays (Tyreek Hill’s speed is unstoppable), the revival of a star player (Amari Cooper sorely needed this breakout game), a brawl which led to a star player getting ejected then eventually suspended and, of course, a thrilling finish. Derek Carr reminded why he, not Alex Smith, was pegged as an early MVP candidate last year. The throws Carr made to complete Oakland’s comeback win were absurd and amazing.
THINGS I DON’T KNOW
I don’t know why Marcus Mariota is not dominating. This one confuses me a lot, mostly because Mariota was my preseason pick for Offensive Player of the Year. I even spotlighted Mariota as a player to target in fantasy leagues back in August. I had hoped that by now Mariota would be leading the league in touchdowns and completion percentage. Instead, he has the same number of touchdowns as he does interceptions — four. Mariota also only has a 83.2 quarterback rating, on pace for a significant downgrade from his 2016 rating of 95.6.
While a hamstring injury probably affected performances the past few weeks, Mariota has much higher expectations a year after he was beginning to show signs of stardom. He only tossed 203 yards (and ran for eight) on Sunday while throwing no touchdowns against the Browns. The Browns. While Mariota did not throw a pick, his subpar performance is not good enough for a quarterback of his caliber. Mariota is the keystone of the offense, and he needs to improve if the Titans want any chance at making the playoffs.
I don’t know why Jordan Howard is not making a greater impact. Let me start off by saying that Howard is a phenomenal running back. His power, speed and vision combine to make one heck of a player. Unfortunately, Howard has struggled to put up consistent fantasy numbers despite being third in the league in carries (150). Including Howard, there are seven running backs who have seen over 140 touches. Howard is by far the lowest scoring fantasy player out of those seven — not ideal for a player who two weeks ago saw 36 carries.
There are two issues with Howard. First, he has been unable to score at the goal line. The Bears continue to hand him the ball inside the ten, and Howard has not scored. Second, and most importantly, Howard has shown no improvements as a receiver. He has dropped multiple balls, including a potential game-winner in week one, and has been replaced on passing downs by rookie Tarik Cohen. Howard may be a good player, but his fantasy relevance is dwindling fast.
I don’t know if the Dolphins can survive all these injuries. As of Tuesday afternoon, 11 out of the 13 players on the Dolphins’ injury report for their Thursday night game are starters. No, that’s not a typo. There were even 12 starters originally, but Byron Maxwell was cut. Miami has had their fair share of injuries since Adam Gase took over last offseason (probably something to do with that horrendous field), including losing starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill for the season back in training camp.
The Dolphins are in the thick of the surprisingly competitive AFC East and cannot afford to lose a crucial Thursday night battle in Baltimore. While players are often put on an injury report for precautionary reasons, I’m sure the Dolphins would rather have a clean injury report. Miami needs all the help they can get to fill in for the players the team has already lost. A banged up team with backups playing will not help the Dolphins’ chances of returning to the playoffs.
PLAYER TO WATCH FOR: Will Fuller
I was never a fan of Fuller mainly because of his boom or bust potential and his injury history. But after coming back from a collarbone injury, Fuller has scored five times in three games. I am not saying Fuller is a must-add, though, mainly because he has only averaged 4.6 targets a game. That means Fuller is averaging a touchdown every two targets, so keep an eye on him if he continues to produce. Fuller is too fast to ignore, and speed his is key to fantasy relevance.
PLAYER TO IGNORE: O.J. Howard
Ironically, unlike Fuller, I am a huge fan of Howard. He is a big, athletic, talented receiver who can block. The only issue is Cameron Brate. The veteran tight end has seen considerably more playing time and targets then Howard. Even after a great performance, partly due to some blown coverages, I’m not touching Howard unless Brate goes down. If that happens, consider Howard a must-start player.
Every week I’ll talk a little about a college football player who I think will, or will not, make a great NFL player. This week I’ll be highlighting Derrius Guice.
In yet another loaded running back class, Guice has done a lot to stand out against some tough defenses, including rushing for 276 yards and a score on Saturday against Auburn. Guice has incredible footwork with outstanding vision. He is not afraid to get physical and has proven to be a capable workhorse back. Like I said, though, I am worried his draft value falls surrounded by other talented running backs. Either way, Guice should be a productive every-down player in the NFL. Early Projection: Early 2nd round
The ‘Hands’ Award: Kenny Stills
There were some amazing catches this week, but Stills gets the prestigious ‘Hands’ Award. I could have gone with one of the numerous one-handed grabs, but we see a couple of them a week. The last time we saw magic like Stills pulled off? When Jermaine Kearse did it in Super Bowl 49
Uniform of the Week: Los Angeles Chargers
Any other week, this would have gone to the Raiders and their glorious Color Rush set. Even the Chiefs were contenders this week. Unfortunately for them, the Chargers happened to wear arguably the best jersey in the NFL. I prefer matching pants, but the powder blue stripes do nicely on the white pants. This is an all-time uniform. Too bad there were no Chargers’ fans to see it.
The NSFW Award: Le’Veon Bell
Another week, another award for the superstar running back. Bell really deserves this one after his bone-crushing, soul-shaking, heartbreaking stiff arm that slammed Dre Kirkpatrick into the ground for eternity. Rest in peace, Dre, say hi to Tyler Lockett (not because he got hurt, but because Landon Collins destroyed him earlier).
The Broken Lock Award: The Cleveland Browns
The door is wide open for Browns quarterbacks. Unfortunately, the door has never been closed. The countless locks that have been promised to finally “fix the problem” have failed year after year. Cleveland fans can only hope that the team gets a shiny new lock in April, and perhaps a new locksmith (I hear Chuck Pagano might be available). Until then, the Browns are stuck with three new, but rusty, locks to try and fix the greatest dilemma in football.
The Wasted Metaphor Award: Mitchell Trubisky
I was so hyped to use another metaphor to describe Trubisky’s ineffectiveness. The only issue is that I cannot think of an accurate representation of Trubisky’s lack of value. I wanted to make the point that Trubisky, who in the past two games has 12 completions on a measly 23 attempts, really has not done anything, despite winning both of those games. Trubisky has done basically nothing, yet he hasn’t harmed anything in the process. His value thus far has been a solid zero — he doesn’t add value, but he doesn’t take away anything, either. Trubisky just simply is.
ONE LAST THING
It’s the most wonderful time of the NFL season: the NFL trade deadline! Alright, alright. The trade deadling is extremely overhyped and nowhere near as dramatic as the NBA’s or even the NHL’s. Still, as the deadline nears (it’s on Halloween this year) I make the case for a few players I think will be traded and name some potential suitors.
- Martavis Bryant – I explained this one last week, but recent reports continue to suggest the talented receiver is unhappy and will likely be moved.
- Malcolm Butler – This almost makes too much sense. Butler is a pending free agent and will demand top money, which is a good indicator that the Patriots will look to trade him. They have done it before with Jamie Collins and Chandler Jones, and considering the Patriots pass defense is dead last in the league, Butler should get traded sooner rather than later. The team signing Stephon Gilmore didn’t help Butler’s cause, either.
- Marcell Dareus – Seven years removed from being selected third overall in the 2011 NFL draft, Dareus has gone from All-Pro to All-Bench. He has only seen 29% of defensive snaps on a revamped Bills defense under new, defensive-minded coach Sean McDermott. Reports say Dareus is also disgruntled with his situation, adding to the likelihood he is moved. After all, he has a $9.7 million cap hit. A team with a weak defensive line and ample cap space will trade for Dareus and hope he can return to his dominant ways.
- Paxton Lynch – The former first-round pick has amassed two touchdowns and one interception in what has been a disappointing career thus far. To add insult to injury, Lynch lost his starting job to a sixth-round pick and Brock Osweiler. Do I really need to add anything else? As for why teams would trade for Lynch — he is a young, mobile quarterback with a strong arm and loads of potential. A team with an aging veteran would be wise to spend a pick on Lynch, like the Cardinals or Steelers.
- T.J. Yeldon – What happened to the former Alabama star? He was a stud in college and had 1,019 total yards his rookie year. A terrible offensive line, an inconsistent quarterback and new additions at the position have hurt Yeldon in his career, who has been a healthy scratch for all but one game this year. The knock on Yeldon is mostly his subpar receiving skills, but he still has more career receiving touchdowns than career rushing touchdowns. Yeldon would be a solid addition to a team looking for a decent running back, like the Giants or the Seahawks.
- Honorable Mention: Joe Thomas – I know Thomas can’t get traded before the deadline after his season ended with a torn tricep, but I think the injury only helps the case for the Browns to trade him postseason. The Browns have made it clear before that they won’t trade the future Hall of Famer, but the team is rebuilding (again) and needs all the draft capital they can get. As for a potential buyer, who wouldn’t want a proven anchor at left tackle? Sure, Thomas is injured, but it was his first real injury in his 11-year career. I would bet Thomas can knock out a couple more years out left for a contender with offensive line issues like the Seahawks or the Patriots. But now they will have to wait until the offseason to make a move for Thomas.